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Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)
Opera Omnia VI, Harpsichord Works II
CD 1
Aria in C BuxWV 246 [13:20]
Suite in e BuxWV 236 [7:49]
Aria in a BuxWV 249 [4:52]
Suite in F BuxWV 239 [4:42]
Suite in a BuxWV deest [7:57]
Canzona in d BuxWV 168 [3:45]
Suite in a BuxWV 244 [8:09]
Suite in C BuxWV 227 [7:03]
Toccata in G BuxWV 165 [4:19]
CD 2
Aria Rofilis in d BuxWV 248 [2:42]
Suite in G BuxWV 240 [6:14]
Suite in e BuxWV 237 [8:54]
Canzona in C BuxWV 166 [4:03]
Courante in d BuxWV Anh. [1:55]
Suite in g BuxWV 241 [7:13]
Suite in C BuxWV 229 [3:55]
Ton Koopman (harpsichord)
rec. 2007, Lübeck, Germany. DDD
CHALLENGE CC72245 [62:02 + 35:02]
Experience Classicsonline

This is the sixth set in a series of what looks as though it will eventually stretch to two dozen or so volumes. The whole – on Challenge - will contain all the works of the important north German-Danish composer and keyboard player, Dieterich Buxtehude. Volume VI has two CDs of his harpsichord music.
If nothing else (and there is much else), the project will throw brighter light on just how varied was Buxtehude’s output – and how accomplished a composer he was. All the more pity, incidentally, that not all of his music is extant. Volume I contained a first selection of harpsichord pieces; Volumes II and V vocal works while Volumes III and IV were dedicated to the organ. So, the logic for listeners is slanted firmly in the direction of collecting the entire series, because volumes are being issued in what may appear somewhat serendipitous fashion.
In terms of strength and variety of interpretation this, of course, not only puts quite a weight on the director; especially when they are also the chief soloist. It also asks us to trust - in almost every respect - the musical judgements of one performer who is also the originator and fashioner of the project. Such concentration could be a liability. Unless that figure at the centre of everything is Ton Koopman. Fresh from a Bach cantata series which occupied him for ten years and has turned out to be something of a triumph, Koopman seems likely now to be spending as long – or longer – devoted to Buxtehude.
Devotion is the operative word. This is a labour of love. But it has not a whiff of  amateurish admiration. Rather, the playing style, editing, supporting essays and indeed the whole splendid presentation start from the premise that Buxtehude is a very great composer and one whose greatness has to be taken for granted, as it is with Bach and Handel. And that we should thus let the music take us where it will.
In fact it takes us to some most interesting places… there are pieces in the stylus phantasticus (flourishing, improvisatory music); pieces of equal passion – but directed towards precision in every note; French-style dance suites, and works that could be described as almost experimental. It’s likely that these compositions had an audience of amateur and informal performers and performances: there is a simplicity and reluctance to venture into remoter keys than C major, D major and minor, E minor, F major, G major and minor, A major and minor.
There is – of course – some overlap between pieces which Buxtehude wrote for the harpsichord and those for the organ without pedals, manualiter. Nor can we overlook the fact that none of the manuscripts for Buxtehude’s harpsichord music survives – we only have copies. Koopman took the decision not to try and cram all that oeuvre onto three CDs so the fourth here (CD 2 in this set) is but 35 minutes long.
No matter: playing modern instruments by Willem Kroesbergen, Koopman has produced a feast. Not a sampler or dry recital of curios. But music which you will want to listen to repeatedly for the compositions’ profundity, liveliness, and their textures - both gentle and aggressive. We have to thank Koopman as well for the variety that he offers us so convincingly. His interpretation of the Suite in e BuxWV 236 (CD1 tr.2), for instance, shows great contrasts of colour and temperament; not hurried or peremptory, he nevertheless makes no apologies for leading us through the movements, rather than asking us to take them or leave them. This is a prudent approach that does the music real justice.
Koopman’s playing convinces, then, from the first note. It’s sensitive, stylish, articulate and consistent in every respect. There are other ongoing series (Julia Brown’s on Naxos stands out; as does Vogel’s on MD&G). Other interpretations certainly have their advantages. But Koopman has the lead for the way in which his immersion in the material seems to have conferred ample scope to breath, to have let the music find its own depth and work as it was intended to… particularities of tempi, nuances of phrasing and felicitous ornamentation in the service of invention – not virtuosity.
At times the music is somewhat ‘dry’, seems more of an exploration than a celebration – even the opening Aria in C (CD1 tr.1) has a Handelian predictability to it. Yet Koopman maintains and freshens our interest in it by playing it as though with a small band of avid listeners all hearing it for the first time. So this is compelling playing of generally exciting and original music and should be immediately added to the collection of anyone with a love of the Baroque keyboard and/or the less celebrated corners of Buxtehude.
Mark Sealey


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